A Tribute to my Foremothers

Mother's Day 1998

Lorilee (Loewen) Scharfenberg

31 years ago, Mother's Day 1967, was an historic event for me. I arrived home to greet my family in Riverside! My Mother was 39 years old and I was the 6th child living in a fairly new, unfinished 3-bedroom bungalow!

Today I want to journey with you back in time more than 115 years to Rosenfeld, MB near Kleefeld in the year 1883. My great-grandmother (Justina Isaac) was 17 and married my great-grandfather Jacob Bartel who was 19. They were members of the Kleefeld KG all of their married lives. They had a total of eleven children. One died as a nursing infant. Grandma Justina (as I will affectionately call her) was an outdoors woman in her youth, however, during the course of her childbearing years she developed heart problems and was often battling illness.

She was described as a loving, easy-going, soft-spoken woman. Together she and Jacob raised their 10 surviving children in a Russian style house-barn combination home. She gave birth to all of her children at home without the aid of a doctor. Health care was a real concern for mothers then since they had to fend for themselves, vaccinations were not the norm as a result one son was crippled by polio at age 7. She had a minimal grade-school education and spoke Low-German and German at home. She baked her bread in a bake-oven and then later a cookstove and got her milk from the cows conveniently located down-the-hall. The children's clothes were all hand-sewn and as a good environmentalist, scraps of old clothes were recycled into blankets. As farmers they butchered and smoked their own meat and the garden provided them with fresh vegetables.

As a mother she was fairly self-sufficient although her oldest daughter (my Grandma) stayed home from school at age 11 and took over the task of running the household due to the poor health of her mother and the increasing number of children in the household. From time to time a trip was made to Winnipeg by horse and buggy for supplies but since clothes were hand sewn there was no need for lengthy and numerous shopping trips. Thrift was admired in a wife! The main issues that concerned the parents at that time were the changes from long pleated skirts to 3/4 length fitted, the use of bicycles by youth, children dating non-Mennonites and the general belief that education was dangerous and physical work was good. Justina died at the age of 68 due to heart and kidney failure and in her last few months expressed gratitude that she had lived long enough to see all her children accept the Lord.

My grandmother Annie Bartel married Abram Eidse of Rosenhoff, Manitoba in 1912 at the age of 23. Her first romance with a non-Mennonite had been broken up by her parents. From the age of 11, after only 5 winters of schooling, she ran the Bartel household and became very proficient at both dairy farming and other more typical female pursuits. Baptized as a member of the Gruenfeld KG she joined the Rosenort KG church on her marriage and all of her adult children became members here as well. She gave birth to 11 children as well, with the help of her Mom-in-law, a midwife, Helena Eidse.

Within the first ten years of marriage she buried four of 6 children: one of a set of twin boys died at birth and the other died of severe burns after his carriage was set on fire by a kerosene lantern (Interestingly enough this year -1914, was the year Mother's Day became a recognized holiday.) A third son died of influenza and one little girl died because of a premature birth. Parenting was not easy! Despite this tragedy in her life she continued to nurture the children that graced their home and thought the years invited many strangers to eat at her table and share their home. She usually arose at 5 A.M. to begin the running of her household. She made thousands of meals with her cookstove, baked at least 9 loaves of bread 3X a week, milked her herd of Jersey cows daily, she butchered and smoked her own meat and grew a full acre of vegetables in her garden. She tilled between the rows with a horse and cultivator. She was always in fine health and had rosy cheeks. She drove her car often and well which she learned soon after marriage.

Because Grandpa had difficulty thinking clearly due to a childhood accident, she did most of the financial transactions for the farm! A true home-based business woman of the Roaring 20's and the Dirty Thirties. She directed her children in their play and stressed the importance of allowing them that freedom. Her diapers were made of cloth, washing was done with a ringer-washer and the clothes were dried by fresh prairie air. One improvement in their home over her childhood one was the invention of the cash n' carry toilet which saved many a family member from a cold trip outside. She spoke English, German and Low German and loved to read in her spare time. She sewed all of her clothes and her children's and hundreds of baby blankets for MCC. She needed 7 hours of sleep and so was often in bed by 10 but not before a time of Bible reading. She taught her children the facts of life, to work hard without complaining and to apologize willingly. The main issues that concerned parents at this time were military conscription, use of radios, musical instruments, competitive sports and wedding rings. Grandma Eidse was a widow for more than 7 years and stayed on her farm till her sudden death at the age of 65.

My mother, Tina Eidse married my father at the age of 20 with seven years of primary school under her belt. She was baptized as a member of the Rosenort KG. Despite the lack of education she is fluent in four languages. She had all six of us children in a hospital, 4 in Morris and two in Mexico. During her time as a mom she also served for 10 years as a missionary nurse. She managed to keep career and family in balance with the help of Sharon and Anne. All of us underwent immunization which gave all of us healthy childhood's. Like most of mothers her age she has done more than her share of cooking on an electric/gas oven. She has experienced both butchering and buying her own meat, has milked cows for at least 11 years of motherhood, has planted and harvested heaps of potatoes, shucked mountains of corn and shelled millions of peas. She had the advantage over her mother in having both an electric freezer and a dishwasher to make her household duties easier. The invention of the flush toilet was another added convenience. My Mom has baked many luscious loaves of bread herself but in later years switched to the convenience of that bought stuff which in my opinion is only good for the toaster. (Good thing those came into the community about when she got married.) Although she sewed most of our childhood clothes, she has purchased almost as many throughout the years. Trips to Winnipeg rose from approximately 4 a year as a young mother to an average of once a week before I graduated in 1985.

She taught us to recognize many different varieties of birds, more varieties of flowers and how to appreciate good food. Her medical knowledge has been given out liberally and in large doses and we know that Mexican Wonder-Oil and Vicks fix almost everything, direct Sulfa powder heals almost all wounds in a day or two, ears should be cleaned regularly with a good water enema, and having a medical book is basic to running a household. Common sense was preached and practiced in our home. Socks and underwear should be soaked in Bio-ad before washing for whiter whites. Lemon juice takes out rust, ice and butter take out gum and white toothpaste clears up most other stains! Concerns for her children included the arrival of the miniskirt on the fashion scene, Elvis Presley and rock n' roll, the availability of drugs, the acceptance of social drinking and the push for secular post-secondary education. My Mom has taught me many things through the years and continues to try to teach me a few things even now. The greatest thing that she ever taught me was how to pray goodnight. It is a great comfort to me to know that she continues to pray for each of her children and grandchildren every night and that our salvation is her greatest wish.

Now I am a mother. I was married at the age of 22. I've had more than 16 years of education. I cook with my oven, my barbecue and a microwave. I have three sons whom I adore. I buy most of my meat, all of my bread, and most of my son's clothing at Walmart (although I enjoy finding a good bargain at garage sales or at Value Village) and am enjoying a small garden (my onions and lettuce are up!) and enjoy finding new recipes via the Internet. I tried to milk a cow on my in-law's farm once but was unsuccessful so I stick to buying homogenized or 2% at the store. We made it to Winnipeg for the arrival of our three children and I have a private nurse (Mom) who helps when I'm puzzled over some health issue of my children. I enjoy the cordless phone which I think is essential for mothers today -wash dishes and chat simultaneously! (Buy your wife one if she doesn't have one already) I have had the luxury of using Huggies disposables. The environmentalists would despise me but with time being money these days plus the cost of water here in Riverside, disposables are arguably cheaper and handier!.

Yes, I admit my life is a lot easier than that of the generations before me. I still have dishes to do on a regular basis since we still haven't found a way to live without food. My laundry pile never seems to disappear since children are dirt-magnets and the vacuum-cleaner and the broom still need to move around a fair bit since inventors have never thought of a way to keep dust and debris from sticking to shoes. Just when I have the toys put away they magically sprout all over the room and as I write this toys are peeking at me from the strangest places. Potty training is a pain and takes mountains of patience and bath time means "don't enter the room with dry socks". Immunizations are great but doesn't it seem like we're always running to the doctor for something? Shopping for groceries can also be a real hassle, especially if the 3-year-old wants a candy and the 5-year-old needs the bathroom and you're trying to keep them near the cart while you're fumbling with your wallet trying to find the Interac card.

The strangest thing about motherhood is how each day is a completely new story with the children doing the writing. What I enjoy most about motherhood is hearing my sons talk to each other while still in their beds, or finding them cuddling each other. Just seeing life through the eyes of a child is thrilling - Previously I took for granted the airplanes leaving white streaks in the sky, the rising of the moon, the croaking of frogs in the spring time, the sound of thunder, the magic of seeding a garden, the whistle of the trains in the distance and seeing John Deere's growling on the fields. I enjoy hearing my three-year old saying "Need Breakfast", teaching my boys to climb trees and singing along with "Veggie Tales". Nevertheless, my heart especially leaps for joy when they pray out loud saying some of the same prayers my parents taught me!

I think that my concerns for my children are many and varied. We do not live in a godly country. Alternate lifestyles are actively endorsed. World religions creep into almost all the books and t.v. shows we see, pornography is easy to access because of home computers, and the outlook for jobs bad. Yet I don't long for the good old days of scrubbing laundry by hand, carrying water by the pail or making supper for 30 hungry threshing men. I still fear for the safety of our children in such a perverse world and yet, like my mother, grandmother and great-grandmother I have to trust that the Lord will lead and guide me to help my children make wise decisions. Like each of my foremothers, I have the support of a strong Christian man by my side. We all want to see the salvation of our children first and foremost.

I praise the Lord today for the great examples of steadfast parenting that I have to look back at. Motherhood is a wonderful gift from God.

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Last Updated March 20, 2000 by Lorilee Scharfenberg